A Little Healthy Competition! A List of Ass-Kicking, Sporty, and Competitive YA Protagonists

A List of YA Reads Featuring Ass-Kicking, Sporty, and Competitive Protagonists

Winger by Andrew Smith The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater Leverage by Joshua Cohen

by REBECCA, August 19, 2013

Now, I know this may shock a number of you, but I am neither sporty nor am I an ass-kicker. No, I’m far more comfortable running up a coffee shop tab than running a mile. I am, however, extremely competitive; I love, love, love being good at things; and I am easily manipulated into trying things when told I will fail at them. Thus, it will be no surprise to learn that I am a big fan of books and movies where people push themselves to be great and triumph over challenges, whether personal or worldly.

The Little Gymnast by Sheila HaighSome recent rad sporty or competitive reads include Andrew Smith’s spectacular Winger, Joshua C. Cohen’s Leverage, and Maggie Stiefvater’s beautiful Scorpio Races. Then, of course, there are classics from my youth, like Chris Crutcher’s Stotan!, and Sheila Haigh’s The Little Gymnast. There’s been a recent spate of sporty YA tv, too: the reality show Breaking Pointe on the CW, awesome Aussie import, Dance Academyand my personal favorite, gymnastics drama Make It Or Break It.

Lucky me, then, because my list of to-read books about such ass-kickers, sportsters, and competitors has recently swollen with the following exciting-looking reads! All blurbs from Goodreads.

Falling Hard by Megan Sparks

Falling Hard (Roller Girls #1) by Megan Sparks (2013). Why is roller derby so freaking badass?!

When Annie moves from London to a small town in the midwest, she struggles to fit in. She gets off to a bad start when she makes an enemy of her school’s queen bee, Kelsey. But she discovers a new passion, the exciting sport of roller derby, and makes friends with the cool and quirky girls on her team, the Liberty Belles. She also meets Jesse, the friendly boy who works at the roller rink, and Tyler, a cute, all-American sports star.

Boy21 by Matthew Quick

Boy21 by Matthew Quick (2012). 

Basketball has always been an escape for Finley. He lives in gray, broken Bellmont, a town ruled by the Irish Mob, drugs, violence, and racially charged rivalries. At home, he takes care of his disabled grandfather, and at school he’s called “White Rabbit,” the only white kid on the varsity basketball team. He’s always dreamed of getting out somehow with his girlfriend, Erin. But until then, when he puts on his number 21, everything seems to make sense.

Russ has just moved to the neighborhood. A former teen basketball phenom from a privileged home, his life has been turned upside down by tragedy. Cut off from everyone he knows, he now answers only to the name Boy21—his former jersey number—and has an unusual obsession with outer space. As their final year of high school brings these two boys together, “Boy21” may turn out to be the answer they both need.

Riptide by Lindsey Scheibe

Riptide by Lindsey Scheibe (2013). Basically, this sounds like one of my all-time favorite sporty movies, Blue Crush (2002), featuring a pre-waif Kate Bosworth and a pre-straightened-teeth Michelle Rodriguez.

Blue CrushFor Grace Parker, surfing is all about the ride and the moment. Everything else disappears. She can forget that her best friend, Ford Watson, has a crush on her that she can’t reciprocate. She can forget how badly she wants to get a surf scholarship to UC San Diego. She can forget the pressure of her parents’ impossibly high expectations. When Ford enters Grace into a surf competition—the only way she can impress the UCSD surfing scouts—she has one summer to train and prepare. Will she gain everything she’s ever wanted or lose the only things that ever mattered?

Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach


Stupid Fast (Stupid Fast #1) by Geoff Herbach (2011). This one’s been on my to-read list for a while.

I, Felton Reinstein, am Stupid Fast. Seriously. The upper classmen used to call me Squirrel Nut, because I was little and jumpy. Then, during sophomore year, I got tall and huge and so fast the gym teachers in their tight shorts fell all over themselves. During summer, three things happened all at once. First, the pee-smelling jocks in my grade got me to work out for football, even though I had no intention of playing. Second, on my paper route the most beautiful girl I have ever seen moved in and played piano at 6 a.m. Third, my mom, who never drinks, had some wine, slept in her car, stopped weeding the garden, then took my TV and put it in her room and decided she wouldn’t get out of bed.

Listen, I have not had much success in my life. But suddenly I’m riding around in a jock’s pick-up truck? Suddenly I’m invited to go on walks with beautiful girls? So, it’s understandable that when my little brother stopped playing piano and began to dress like a pirate I didn’t pay much attention. That I didn’t want to deal with my mom coming apart.



Bruised by Sarah Skilton (2013). 

Imogen has always believed that her black belt in Tae Kwon Do made her stronger than everyone else—more responsible, more capable. But when she witnesses a holdup in a diner, she freezes. The gunman is shot and killed by the police. And it’s all her fault. Now she’s got to rebuild her life without the talent that made her special and the beliefs that made her strong. If only she could prove herself in a fight—a real fight—she might be able to let go of the guilt and shock. She’s drawn to Ricky, another witness to the holdup, both romantically and because she believes he might be able to give her the fight she’s been waiting for.

But when it comes down to it, a fight won’t answer Imogen’s big questions: What does it really mean to be stronger than other people? Is there such a thing as a fair fight? And can someone who’s beaten and bruised fall in love?

Pointe by Brandy Colbert


Pointe by Brandy Colbert (forthcoming, 2014). I’ve been burned by feh ballet books in the past, but this one looks particularly interesting because ballet is only half the story.

Theo is better now. She’s eating again, dating guys who are almost appropriate, and well on her way to becoming an elite ballet dancer. But when her oldest friend, Donovan, returns home after spending four long years with his kidnapper, Theo starts reliving memories about his abduction—and his abductor. Donovan isn’t talking about what happened, and even though Theo knows she didn’t do anything wrong, telling the truth would put everything she’s been living for at risk. But keeping quiet might be worse.

So, how about you—what are your favorite ass-kicking, sporty, or competitive books?


  1. Margalit

     /  August 20, 2013

    This is not what I’d call sporty, and the ass-kicking is of a quiet, defiant sort, but “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” is a really powerful short story about the use of athletic competition for social/political ends. And you can’t beat a British youth prison in the ‘late 50s for atmospheric setting!

  2. Ballet meets ripped-from-the-headlines story? Interesting! (Although we recently blogged about musical prodigies as a YA trend — http://www.weheartya.com/2013/08/trend-spotting-musical-prodigies.html — and now we’re wondering if ballet is another one…)

    Anyhoot, we looooved WINGER and SCORPIO RACES, so if these are even in the vicinity of those, then there’s a good chance we’ll like them too. Thanks for the round-up!

    • I *know*, right? I’m really excited about this one. Yeah, I think ballet is a little mini-trend—it has all the potential drama of a sports book (injuries, competition, teamwork, etc.) as well as tons of psychodrama, since dance isn’t solitary the way music sometimes is (relationships, body issues, romance, spandex).

  3. *Coughs* TAP OUT. MMA ass-kicking and street brawling: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13587195-tap-out

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